8th May 2021

A Brief Introduction to the Singapore Theatre Scene

singapore theatre


Singapore was founded by the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew 56 years ago on 9 August 1965 when Singapore left Malaysia to become an independent and sovereign democratic nation.

Singapore is a very successful economic and finance hub where the city is blooming quickly in south-east Asia. The Singapore 2020 population is estimated at 5,850,342 people at mid year according to United Nations data compared to 1965’s 1,877,808 people. Singapore’s population is equivalent to 0.08% of the total world population. Singapore is only 716 square kilometers (276 square miles) island. 74.2% of Singapore’s population is Chinese with Malays accounting for 13.2%, the second largest but distantly placed community in the country. Indians also comprise part of the minority group and account for only 9.2% of the population.

‘The Performing Arts in Singapore has been established way before Singapore was founded in 1965 (Oon 2001) and it has a very rich and long history to it. At the time, the performing arts venues were not even planned, funded or built. This article aims to give the readers a brief introduction to the theatre art scene in Singapore.

Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA)

According to Oon (2001), SIFA first started as the Singapore Arts Festival in 1977, as part of a nationwide festival to celebrate local arts across the country’s diverse communities. SIFA 2020 was cancelled due to COVID-19 but SIFA 2019 was made as a delightful, colourful and artistic cultural event. Now in its 44nd year, it is still unknown whether it will be held this year because of the Government’s strict limitation of crowd gatherings.

Apart from the exciting and excellent performances, SIFA 2019 also provided invaluable opportunities for artists and audience members to mingle with each other where the festival also transformed into artistic conferences, talks and exchanges. Audiences were given the chance to speak directly to artists, creators and musicians at venues. SIFA 2019 took place at some very popular venues in the centre of the city.

Performing Arts in Singapore

In Singapore, we have many professional and amateur theatre companies, dance companies, opera companies and music organizations that offer a wide range of Asian and Western performances. Different Singapore theatres companies offer various distinct language performances in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.

Very often, when a Broadway, West End, Australian musical productions and pop-stars’ concerts tour to Asia, they always take a stop-over in Singapore. For example, Singin’ in the Rain, Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, Chicago, Madonna, U2 and Lady Gaga etc. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra performs regularly at the Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay, a Durian-shaped building overlooking the Singapore River which was opened in 2002. Nearly all touring international companies will likely perform at the Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay, Marina Bay Sands Theatres, Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall. The Singapore Lyric Opera collaborates with renowned opera companies from around the world to stage various performances at the Esplanade. Moreover, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, the only professional Chinese orchestra in Singapore, has been producing new works for their classic interpretations. They perform every fortnight attracting a lot of the new and older generation of audience. (Chong 2011)

Here are a number of theatre companies staging very popular performances every year, including the Necessary Stage, the Singapore Repertory Theatre, Wild Rice, TheatreWorks, Drama Box, Nine Year Theatre and Singapore Dance Theatre etc.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the traditional Cantonese opera in Singapore. Cantonese opera could be seen on the street corners under the purposely-built tents throughout the city in the golden days (Chong 2011). However, in these modern days, these artists are very hard to find and be trained. During the ‘Ghost month’ (7th month of the Chinese year calendar), you will be able to see plenty of their performances especially in different heartlands in Singapore. The popularity of Cantonese opera is overwhelming.






Theatre Life!: A History of English-language Theatre in Singapore through The Straits Times (1958-2000) by Clarrisa Oon. Singapore Press Holdings, 2001.

The Theatre and the State in Singapore: Orthodoxy and resistance by Terence Chong. Routledge, 2011.

Also on TheatreArtLife:

How We’ve Made Performances During Covid-19

Mayor Of London Sadiq Khan Announces £5m Roadmap To Reopen City

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Teresa Fok is a Stage and Events Manager, lecturer and performing arts researcher. She is currently a master’s candidate at the Western Academy of Performing Arts, Edith Cowan University ([email protected]), in Perth, Australia with the thesis titled ‘Understanding Stage Management in the 21st Century: An Industry Survey of Current Stage Managers in Australia’, in addition to a working journal article: “Burning Out: Work-life Balance of Theatre Practitioners in Singapore”. Teresa was the recipient of no fewer than 12 scholarships, bursaries and prizes during her period of completing a Postgraduate Certificate in Culture, Creativity and Entrepreneurship from the University of Leeds (UK), and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (First Class Honours) from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA) majoring in stage management. Fluent in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, Teresa’s professional stage management career has spanned over two decades and 15 countries including large scale international productions: Shaolin Wheel of Life World Tour, Singin’ in the Rain, Cabaret, Dirty Dancing, Hua Mulan, As You Like It, Pygmalion, Les Misérable, The Motown Event, Jekyll & Hyde, Hong Kong Disneyland Opening Promotion Video and finance roadshows international corporations. Moreover, Teresa has had experience working for a broad range of production companies including: Sports and Entertainment Ltd (Australia), The Bell Shakespeare Company (Australia), Brisbane Festival (Australia), Resorts World Sentosa (Singapore), Oriental Events Co. Ltd. (China), Chromatic Production Ltd. (UK), and Cameron Macintosh & Lunchbox Theatre Production Ltd. (Worldwide). Teresa’s academic experience has included being Associate Lecturer in Stage Management for the Diploma in Arts Business Management under the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ngee Ann Polytechnic (Singapore); the Programme Chair for Production Management and Lecturer for Diploma in Arts and Theatre Management at Republic Polytechnic (Singapore) and the Programme Leader for BA (Hons) Technical Theatre and Diploma in Technical and Production Management at LASALLE College of the Arts (Singapore). Teresa is a lifelong member of the Hong Kong Association of Theatre Technicians & Scenographers (HKATTS), an Individual Member with the International Organisation of Scenographers, Theatre Architects and Technicians (OISTAT) and a Student Member with United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT).

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